BENGALURU: Breast cancer is surrounded by a large number of myths and misconceptions which sometimes lead women to avoid seeking medical help despite doubts and suspicions of having developed the disease. Here we discuss a few of the important ones.
Breast Cancer Is Hereditary
Fact: Only about 10 per cent of breast cancers are clearly hereditary in origin, which means they are caused by abnormal genes. However, family history can increase risk and in the presence of other risk factors, it can lead to the disease.
Nothing Can Be Done To Avoid
Fact: Since a majority of cases of breast cancer are caused and aggravated by lifestyle factors, it is possible to reduce your risk of getting the disease by making suitable choices.
Bra Leads To Breast Cancer
Fact: This myth was created by a 1995 book titled “Dressed to Kill” by Sydney Ross and several succeeding e-mail and internet rumours. However, a 2014 study conducted in Seattle on about 1500 women and published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention has proved it wrong beyond any doubt. Previously, it was maintained that bras restrict the lymph system which results in the build up of toxins in the breasts. However, there is no evidence that compression of lymph node can cause breast cancer. In reality, body fluids travel up and into the underarm lymph nodes, not towards the underwire.
Mammograms Can Prevent
Fact: They do not actually prevent breast cancer, but do help in early detection and therefore improve the chances of successful treatment. However, accuracy of diagnosis is much better with the modern Digital Mammography than the traditional technique.
Recent studies in genetics have clearly shown that in most non-communicable diseases, including breast cancer, genetic factors contribute to the development of cancer. But genes are not the only reason why someone gets the disease and someone else doesn’t. In 80-90 per cent of breast cancer patients, genes only make the person prone to the disease.
An individual’s genetic make-up combines with lifestyle factors like body weight, nutritional status, age at pregnancy, breast feeding habits, smoking, drinking, etc. to actually cause the disease. While a healthy lifestyle may not quite prevent breast cancer, it improves the probability of avoiding the disease, delaying its onset or reducing the severity.
Weight and Exercise
A healthy weight and regular exercise are excellent ways to keep away from breast cancer. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) Atlanta recommends at least four hours a week of light to moderate exercise for the best results.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
The world over, a delayed first pregnancy and fewer children are believed to increase the probability of breast cancer. Women who nurse their babies for longer than 12 months can however get a partial reprieve from this.
However in India, at least 30-35 per cent women suffer from Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) which actually becomes aggressive in those who conceive often in the reproductive age group. In the TNBC variety, cancer cells lack the chemical receptors for estrogen and progesterone, the main female reproductive hormones, which makes them harder to treat with most anti-cancer drugs.
Alcohol and Smoking
Doctors recommend that women do not smoke at all, particularly if others in the family have already suffered from breast cancer. If they have picked up the habit, it is advisable to kick the butt as soon as possible. Heavy consumption of alcohol also plays a big part in increasing the chances of suffering from breast cancer.
Hence, with healthy lifestyle choices, people can reduce the risk of breast cancer considerably. Coincidentally, most of these lifestyle recommendations are applicable to other non-communicable diseases as well!
The writer is Clinical Director and Senior Consultant - Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at Cytecare Cancer Hospitals.